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Funding recommended for Paul Henry Trail, DNR shooting range

Greg Chandler

Staff Writer

Two projects in Barry County are slated to receive a combined $550,000 in funding through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund next year.

The trust fund board Dec. 12 recommended approval of a $350,000 grant to acquire 26 acres of property for connecting the north end of the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail in Middleville with the south end of Kent County’s Paul Henry Trail system in Caledonia Township. Another $200,000 would be used toward development of a Department of Natural Resources shooting range on more than 12 acres of land on M-179, just east of Peets Road, in Rutland Charter Township.

The board’s action is the first step in getting state funding for the two projects, according to Lori Burford, a DNR shooting range specialist.

“The Legislature has to approve the funding for us,” Burford said. “Typically, that happens in early spring.”

The property to be acquired for the Paul Henry Trail project includes 2.5 miles of abandoned rail bed, which will serve as the connector between the two existing segments. The state would acquire four parcels of property, totaling 24.75 acres of fee-simple acquisition and 1.25 acres of easement.

According to a DNR news release, the bulk of the property is natural wildlife habitat, including 300 feet of frontage on the Thornapple River that would be ideal for a canoe launch. It also includes a 130-foot railroad trestle over the river, according to the release.

“Thornapple Township is very excited about this opportunity to provide connectivity to Michigan’s evolving trail system,” Township Supervisor Mike Bremer said. “We at the township look forward to providing opportunities for residents and local businesses and organizations to participate in helping to complete this project.

“Our ‘tunnel to nowhere’ under Crane Road will eventually be our tunnel to Michigan, and beyond.”

Burford said the trust fund board’s recommendation means the DNR can begin the design process for the new shooting range, which would replace a secluded 3-acre site in the Barry State Game Area off Yankee Springs Road, north of M-179. The process would incorporate sound abatement, standardized range guidelines and specifications that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.

The trust fund grant would leverage another $600,000 in federal funds that have been collected under the Pittman-Robertson Act. The law, which has been in place since 1937, provides funding for projects that restore and improve wildlife habitat, as well as for development and operation of public shooting ranges and hunting education programs, said Randy Heinze, a wildlife biologist at the DNR regional office in Yankee Springs Township.

“It’s going to be a great investment in Barry County, and it’s going to be a great resource for people to come out and shoot safely,” Heinze said.

Funds for the Pittman-Robertson Act come from a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.

The total cost of the new range has been estimated at about $800,000. If all goes according to plan, the new range could open by late fall of 2020, Heinze said.

The new range has generated support from the Barry County Board of Commissioners as well as from Yankee Springs and Rutland townships.

“This is huge,” Yankee Springs Supervisor Mark Englerth said in sharing the news of the state trust fund board’s recommendation at the township’s Dec. 12 meeting.

Burford said having the support of the local governmental units was critical in getting the grant approved.

“We’re excited to have that local support. We’re excited to get this new site developed,” she said.

The trust fund’s board action was part of $25.6 million in grant awards for outdoor recreation development and land acquisition projects across the state. A total of $14.1 million will go to land acquisition projects and $11.5 million to recreation projects. The board considered requests for 160 projects statewide, totaling nearly $54 million in funding.

“The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is critical in providing people of all ages and abilities with more and better opportunities to experience our state’s woods, water and outdoor heritage,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a news release. “Every year, millions of residents and visitors swim our lakes, hike our forests, bike our trails and connect with the outdoors in dozens of other ways. Trust fund support, this year and every year, ensures that those experiences are here for current and future generations.”

The Natural Resources Trust Fund is a restricted fund established in 1976 to support land conservation and outdoor recreation. It’s financed through interest earned on funds derived from the development of publicly owned minerals, such as oil and natural gas. Throughout its history, the fund has generated more than $1.1 billion to state and local units of government to develop and improve public outdoor recreation opportunities in all 83 Michigan cou

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